Road Zombies

IMG_7023.jpgWe are home after a whirlwind drive to Florida to visit my 92 year-old-mother.  For various reasons, it had to be a quick trip.  But we were able to sneak in two nights to enjoy time (and some awesome meals) with our son and daughter-in-law in Georgia.  The drive was strictly a means to get down south and back as quickly as possible–no dilly-dallying for sightseeing or exploring.  In other words, interstate almost the entire way. IMG_6791

It’s a drive we’ve taken many times before.  When I was in college, a friend and I got a ride with a couple in a Volkswagon van who drove straight through–24 hours from Massachusetts to Florida.  They dropped us off in Daytona Beach and we dove into the ocean fully clothed–it felt so good.  On another memorable trip, when our kids were young and both sets of grandparents lived in Florida, we headed there for Christmas.  An unexpected snowstorm closed the interstate in Georgia just as we were coming through.  Fortunately, we snagged a hotel room at an interstate exit.  Others were not so lucky and had to bed down in the lobby.  The hotel’s Chinese restaurant–the only food option–was absolutely overwhelmed.  It took several hours to get dinner, but there was that wonderful festive atmosphere that often arises among strangers stranded together in travel.   IMG_6813

Nothing so exciting happened on this trip.  We took I-95 through New York City, the industrial ugliness of North Jersey, and then Baltimore and the Washington DC Beltway.  IMG_6818Not very pretty.  Bridges, tunnels, and billboards.IMG_6768IMG_6824.jpg

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In south Georgia, billboards for “adult entertainment” were interspersed with billboards warning of impending eternal damnation.

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The Walking Dead series is filmed in Georgia and, fittingly, a whole series of religious billboards there featured zombies.

Sandpaper eyes, antsy legs, sore bum, hour after hour of road, road, road.  We did our best to avoid traffic by hitting the cities on weekends.  But there was always traffic and more traffic, sometimes jammed and creeping along for no discernible reason.

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The brave souls ahead of us drove their Class A RV through I-95 in the Bronx.

We had a slice of gorgeous weather in Florida and watched the installation of a new dock in front of my mother’s house.

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The metal tube was used to pound in the dock pilings.

The sunsets, as usual, were stunning.

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Since her hip surgery last fall, my mother doesn’t walk as far as she used to.

IMG_6932Even so, we found plenty to look at in her yard and on a walk around her neighborhood.

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This gargantuan tree was in full bloom and covered with birds sipping nectar.  I don’t know what kind it is and the owner didn’t either.  Does anyone know?  Update:  It’s a Bombax or Kapok tree.

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IMG_7036IMG_7010IMG_6950IMG_7041IMG_7004IMG_7046Then, back in the truck, for three more long days of driving.

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We enjoyed a lovely misty morning during our brief time on back roads in Georgia.

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Georgia pecan groves

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New York’s George Washington Bridge.

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A view of the New York City skyline from the bridge. I shot this so fast, I had no idea there was a bike rider passing by.

I used to enjoy these road trips to Florida.  Not so much anymore.  We couldn’t wait to get home.IMG_7140

A Year on the Road, Distilled

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Last May, we left Alaska and ventured out on a year-long (give or take) RV trip.  It has been a unique year in our lives—no work, no house, no obligations, no agenda, lots of change.  IMG_1941Some parts of the trip were expected, other parts were a surprise.  We did not have any epiphanies and I don’t think we changed much.  In fact, we knew ourselves pretty well in planning this as a year-long trip.  The length was just right for us.  Road fatigue is starting to set in and we are eager to settle into a community again, get our hands in some soil, dive into some creative projects, and do some serious cooking.  So, in another week or so we will park our trailer and move into a sweet little hillside house with an expansive view.  Our no-longer-new truck will start hauling lumber, compost, and tools for building projects and gardens.

Our truck one year later in Belfast, Maine.  It's enjoying a gorgeous oceanfront site and waits patiently while we eat fresh steamers and fried clams at the campground's restaurant.

Our truck, one year later, in Belfast, Maine. It’s enjoying a gorgeous oceanfront site and stands by while we eat fresh steamers and fried clams at the campground’s restaurant.

We covered a lot of territory this past year.  Our truck logged over 31,000 miles and we traveled through 23 states with the trailer (26 with the truck) and 2 Canadian provinces.

Alaska's Glenn Highway

Alaska’s Glenn Highway

A typical Zoe pose on this trip, nose high, sniffing for info.

A typical Zoe pose at every part of this trip, nose high, sniffing for info.

We saw a staggering amount of beauty out our truck’s windows, at our campgrounds, and on day trips.

Cassiar Highway, Yukon Territory

Cassiar Highway, Yukon Territory

Lovely Dubois, Wyoming campground view

Lovely Dubois, Wyoming campground view

Boston

Boston

We gawked at and photographed mountains, ocean, farmland, and city architecture.

Oregon's Painted Hills

Oregon’s Painted Hills

Idaho's amazing Sawtooth Mountains

Idaho’s Sawtooths (such a good name)

The Tetons

The Tetons

Zoe enjoying Cape Cod

Zoe enjoying Cape Cod

Hunting Island, South Carolina.

Hunting Island, South Carolina.

Hills above Oroville, Washington

Hills above Oroville, Washington

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Pennsylvania

Charleston

Charleston

We hunkered down through an extended bout of cold weather, forcing us to spend hours inside our tiny home, mostly reading and watching some really addictive (and mostly excellent) TV series (Orange is The New Black, The Vikings, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Luther, The Walking Dead, Fargo FX, The Black Mirror (yes, we have eclectic taste and spent many evening hours in really cold, wet nasty weather, confined in a small trailer in remote campgrounds when it’s too cold to be outside)).

We met a variety of people—but not a wide variety—most were white and middle aged or retired.  Some were interesting and engaging, others … not so much.  We stayed in state and provincial parks, national forests, private RV parks, RV “resorts,” beach cottages (during George’s shoulder surgery rehab) and relatives’ driveways.

A slice of paradise, Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. British Columbia

A slice of paradise, Lake Meziadin Provincial Park. British Columbia

Horse at Dubois, Wyoming private campground

Horse at Dubois, Wyoming private campground

Neighborhood at Pennsylvania campground in Amish country

Neighborhood at Pennsylvania campground in Amish country

St. Simons

St. Simons

We knew the road trip/camping routine pretty well, having driven to Alaska and back from the Lower 48 several times over the years and having traveled around Alaska with an RV and a trailer.  But, it had been about twenty years since we had camped outside of Alaska and we were not entirely prepared for the sheer number of people RVing these days.  The roads and campgrounds were crowded, sometimes oppressively so (I know, we’ve lived in Alaska too long).

The biggest surprise—and disappointment—for me on this trip was how difficult it now is to camp without reservations.  It’s all about reservations these days.  Some state parks take them a year in advance and people hover online waiting to pull the trigger at a minute past midnight for their favorite campsites for the year.  And, once school gets out in the summer, forget it—if you don’t make reservations for the weekend, you likely will be searching for a Walmart parking lot or staying in some decrepit RV park next to hollow-eyed, meth-ridden neighbors in a rusty trailer that looks as if it hasn’t seen a highway in twenty years.  The necessity of planning out routes and destinations far in advance has sucked much of the spontaneity and freedom out of Rving—at least during the summer.  It’s a shame.  Moving when you want, where you want, at ANY TIME you want, is at the heart of a good road trip.

The Sawtooths

The Sawtooths before the summer rush.

Idaho's Redfish lake--this was an unplanned visit, and it worked because it was in May.  Later in the season, it would have been packed.

Idaho’s Redfish lake–this was an unplanned visit, and it worked because it was in May. Later in the season, it would have been packed.

Another thing we didn’t expect was the abysmal state of so many roads, bridges, and highways.  Some states were worse than others (Pennsylvania and South Carolina come to mind), taking a pounding from heavy truck traffic, which makes it even more stressful to drive.  There’s nothing like hitting a long series of crater-like potholes while travelling 65 miles an hour towing a trailer, while a massive truck barrels and sways along beside, sucking you into its turbulence.  Sweet.

Crowds and crappy roads aside, some things are a vast improvement from two decades ago.  I felt almost a personal bond with the modern joys of back up cameras (with a microphone no less, I didn’t have to appear as a screeching harridan giving back up directions into a tight site), tire pressure monitors, and RV GPS.  It’s a harsh world for Luddites these days (oops, your RV won’t fit through this 1910 tunnel, try turning around, sucker!).  I proudly embrace any stress-reducing technology out there, including phone apps for weather alerts and radar so that you will know when a killer tornado is heading your way.  Not that there’s much of anything you can do about it in a trailer.

Lobstah.

Lobstah.

I’m fatter and happier than I was a year ago.  As a warning to anyone contemplating a long road trip—it’s hard to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly when you are traveling.  We’re looking forward to some good eats and being less slug-like when we get into our house.  We will take many more road trips, but none quite like this.  This one was essentially a year-long celebration of retirement.  It was a sweet, fascinating interlude.

Dubois, Wyoming.  Loved it.

Dubois, Wyoming. Loved it.

Petroglyphs in Dubois hills

Petroglyphs in Dubois hills

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Hiking in the Black Hills, South Dakota

One of my favorite places on the trip--the Badlands

One of my favorite places on the trip–the Badlands

Small town Pennsylvania

Small town Pennsylvania

Florida Anhinga

Florida Anhinga

I don’t know if I will continue blogging.  I expect to be immersed in setting up our new life in a new place and don’t know if I will have the time or desire to blog.  If I do, obviously, it won’t be a road trip blog anymore, but will focus on exploring Maine, gardening, building stuff, and—of course—Zoe.  In any case, I will be taking a blogging break while we settle into our house and then I will see how I feel.

Our next-to-the-last campground in Belfast, Maine.  A fittingly beautiful, and chilly campsite

Our next-to-the-last campground in Belfast, Maine. A fittingly beautiful, and chilly campsite

I’ve enjoyed blogging immensely on this trip.  Thanks for coming along.IMG_0288

Maine Spring

IMG_0254When we set out on our trip, almost a year ago, I had visions of avoiding winter by following warm weather around the country.  I brought lots of hot weather clothes and flip flops, with a smattering of layers for occasional encounters with cold or rain.  I pictured continuously lounging in warm evening sunlight, drink in hand, tanned and relaxed.

We had a little of that.

Last June at Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

Last June at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

But not enough.  We enjoyed some sweet, sunny New England summer weather, but soon after we arrived in Georgia in November—the cold descended.  And it never really let up.  We stayed in Georgia for George’s shoulder surgery, but even if we had moved West as planned, we would have been dogged by unseasonably cold, wet weather.  And we were more susceptible than usual because we were living in a small travel trailer and a poorly insulated beach cottage.  To add insult to injury, while we were cold, shivering, and cold some more, Alaska had record high winter temperatures and little snow fall.  We had traveled to the wrong and ugly end of the polar express.

It did not take me long to break down and buy a variety of pants, long sleeved shirts and coats, while giving the stink eye to my summer clothes taunting me from the little trailer closet.  I needed all of those warm clothes when we left the South in early March and headed to Maine.  We had snow and temperatures in the twenties on our trip north.  Yuck.

It was still pretty cold when we arrived in Maine and we even had snow one night.

Harbor boats in their winter shrink wrap

Harbor boats in their winter shrink wrap

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Seals and gulls--they all look cold.

Seals and gulls–they all look cold.

Then spring—tentatively but surely—started to make its presence known.

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Skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage.

Clumps of frog eggs.

Clumps of frog eggs in a swamp.

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IMG_0018We are back in Massachusetts now for a week and it’s still quite cold, even though it’s late April.

I’m looking forward to summer warmth.  I hope it arrives.  One year it didn’t.  In 1816, after a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia, New England had the “Year Without a Summer,” with killing frosts and snow in June and July.  Summer took a vacation and left old man winter to house sit.  With our crazy current weather, who knows what summer will bring.IMG_9507IMG_0184IMG_0142IMG_9518IMG_0216

 

A Surreal Morning in Fredericksburg

IMG_9404One of the bloodiest slaughters in the Civil War occurred on the gentle slope of a hillside peach orchard in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I knew that my great-great-grandfather, George Kriebel, died at Fredericksburg, but did not know any details.  I now know where and how he likely died.

We left Huntington Island State Park in late March with the goal of arriving in Maine on April 1 to start house hunting.  The weather was a challenge.  Below-freezing temperatures and snow hounded us all the way north.  IMG_9430We were in the vanguard of snowbirds heading north and most campgrounds were still closed.  But we found an open KOA in Fredericksburg and could not resist the opportunity to stay an extra day to visit the battlefield.

Zoe, being an Alaskan girl, was thrilled with the cold weather and celebrated her 11th birthday with a new ball.  IMG_9402There is something about the ball-within-a-ball that is all-kinds-of-awesome for Zoe.  She turned into a puppy again, especially because she got to enjoy it (off leash) at a nearly empty campground.  She was able to accompany us to the battlefield, too, so we all set off on an ugly, gray morning, with spitting rain.

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The Battlefield Restaurant

The Fredericksburg area has long been industrialized and developed and it takes some work to envision what it looked like in the 1860s.  IMG_9427The battlefield park feels like a sliver of green carved out of an unattractive, sprawl of old houses and decaying businesses.  I stupidly messed up the directions and we drove the length of the park before we found the visitors’ center.

A young man greeted us at the front desk of the visitors’ center, handing us the standard informational brochures.  His eyes lit up and he grinned when I asked if I could find out any details of George Kriebel’s fate–he said that he LOVED doing such research, it was the best part of the job.  He sent us down to watch a movie on the battle while he consulted their records.

We learned that George Kriebel was part of the bloody suicidal assault on Marye’s Heights–in which wave after wave of Union forces were ordered forward across an open field with no cover or protection to almost certain death.

This (now reconstructed) stone wall provided nice cover for the Confederate army to shoot down on the Union troops below.

This (now reconstructed) stone wall (also called the sunken road) provided cover for the Confederate army to shoot down on the Union troops below.

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A view of the stone wall from lower on the hillside

They were decimated by bullets and artillery mowing them down from the hillside above.  This grotesque squandering of lives resulting from the muddled mismanagement of the “Butcher of Fredericksburg,” General Ambrose Burnside–a man of flamboyant, bushy whiskers (sideburns were named for him) and the first president of the National Rifle Association.

Artillery posts higher above the sunken road, higher on the hill.

Artillery posts above the sunken road, higher on the hill.

Our young man researcher was joined by an older woman staff member–also greatly interested in helping us–who pulled out the battleground maps to show us exactly where Kriebel’s unit was in the battle.

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George Kriebel’s unit would have been to the left of the Stratton house in this picture.

We followed her directions to the Stratton house and then to the area where George Kriebel likely died.

Photo of the Stratton house after the battle

Photo of the Stratton house after the war.

This exhibit in the visitors' center tried to depict the scant cover--a wooden fence and a house--available to the Union troops at Marye's

This exhibit in the visitors’ center tried to depict the scant cover–a wooden fence and a house–available to the Union troops trying to assault Marye’s heights.

The Stratton house now.

The Stratton house today.

It is full of oldish square houses, a working class neighborhood now.  It was a peach orchard then.  A bizarre wartime grave for a man whose grandson and great grandson would be fruit growers.  I hope he died fast and didn’t lie there, suffering, in a mass of bloody, groaning bodies.

This neighborhood now covers the area in which George Kriebel likely died.

This neighborhood now covers the area in which George Kriebel and thousands of other Union soldiers died.

Oddly enough, this was the street next to the Stratton house.

Oddly enough, this was the street next to the Stratton house.

Who knows where he was eventually buried.  He was not one of those identified for burial in the battlefield cemetery.

Fredericksburg cemetery--it holds a small portion of those who died there

Fredericksburg cemetery–with the graves of identified dead

He was thirty-eight years old and left his wife and four children.  Emma, his youngest, and my great-grandmother, was only seven when he died.

It was a sobering morning.  It’s hard to really imagine the massive death visited on what was a small, lovely town and local farm fields and woods.  I came away with the core thought that war sucks.IMG_941520150326_113926

Fishing Lessons

IMG_8330 - CopyAfter spending a lot of time this winter watching birds, I learned that they have a wide variety of fishing styles, techniques, and skills.  I thought that shorebird fishing consisted simply of a dive or beak stab, followed by a quick swallow.  But no, bird fishing is a sophisticated and fascinating business.

For example, one evening at South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park, this brown pelican fished for about an hour off the causeway.  He patiently harvested tiny fishes through the sieve method—lots of work for not much protein.   IMG_8339 First, he took aim and lunged.

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Then he slowly, slowly pulled his head and bloated throat pouch up, engorged with water and minnows.   It was a gradual process, with the water slowly seeping out his beak until his head was fully up. IMG_8392 - CopyIMG_8394IMG_8395IMG_8397 - Copy

IMG_8336IMG_8327 - Copy (2)He held his head fully upright, beak down, while the remaining water dripped out his beak tip and then abruptly pulled his head back, with great bill chomping, and swallowed the little fishes.IMG_8398

IMG_8399 - CopyAfter attracted a bevy of photographers, he flew off to fish elsewhere.IMG_8378IMG_9199IMG_9200IMG_9203

This egret was after larger prey.  She suddenly went into a frenzy of wing flapping and stomping, all around the edge of marsh tidal pool.

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One Gator, Two Gator, Three Gators, Four …

IMG_9025Some places are more of a surprise than others.  When we headed south in the fall, we stayed at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina based on rave reviews by several RV bloggers.  Not surprisingly, we loved it.

Six months later, now heading north in the almost-spring, we stayed at another South Carolina coast state park with a similar name–Huntington Beach State Park.  We had no blogger recommendations for this park, and knew little about it, but it looked interesting.  It was … and more–a very nice surprise.

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To start with, it had alligators–huge armored grandfather gators, adorable smiling-like baby gators, and everything in between.  And there were lots of them, very close, swimming and sunning. IMG_8837

This is a "how many gators can you spot in this picture" puzzle.

This is a “How many gators can you spot in this picture?” puzzle.

I count five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground.  Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

I counted five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground to see the babies. Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

It was a gatorpalooza.  Throw in miles of empty beach and more birds than you can throw a stick at and you have one of my favorite campgrounds in our travels.

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IMG_8653The park is right off a main road leading to the highly commercialized Myrtle Beach, which battles with the Panama City, Florida area for the title of Redneck Riviera.  So it was a surprise to find an oasis of alligators and birds, left alone in relative peace.

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There is a causeway leading to the campground, with cars randomly stopped while their occupants take pictures of alligators sunning on a little island a few yards away.

Causeway.

Causeway.

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This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

Birders with spotting scopes lined the road, trying to catch site of the eaglets in a nearby nest or photographing the birds fishing, sparring, and courting in the oyster beds and marshes.IMG_9067IMG_9328IMG_9069

The campground was a mix of wooded and open spots with two pathways directly out to a beautiful dog-friendly beach.  IMG_9058

The park was established as a bird and wildlife preserve by Archer and Anna Huntington, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric couple who first came to the island seeking ease for Anna’s tuberculosis.  She was a successful sculptor and he had various interests, including a love of all things Spanish.  The house they built in the 1930s, Atalaya, is open to the public, but is in pretty bad shape.  IMG_8879The park puts on an interesting tour, but the house itself was ugly, dark, damp, and cold.  I couldn’t wait to emerge into the sun again.  IMG_8880The land around Atalaya, however, is lovely and, thanks to the Huntingtons, isn’t covered in water slides and Ruby Tuesdays.

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I spent a lot of time watching alligators and birds.  Their eyes,

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and wings,IMG_8598IMG_8954IMG_9097

Check out the reflection of the bird in the middle.

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and signs of spring.IMG_9004IMG_9009IMG_8483IMG_8622IMG_8969IMG_8607

An Outsider in Charleston

IMG_8256I love exploring new cities, even if only for a few hours.  And that’s what I did in Charleston, South Carolina–a petite bon-bon of a city that is almost a caricature of a mythical South.

We decided to leave Edisto Island a day early because we had a 9 am Monday appointment to get a new trailer tire in Charleston.  We did not want to leave Edisto in the early-morning dark and then contend with Charleston’s congested morning commute, so we booked a Sunday night spot at Charleston’s popular James Island County Park campground, much closer to the tire place.  That gave us an unexpected free Sunday afternoon in Charleston.

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George wanted to take care of some chores, so he and Zoe dropped me off downtown and I had three hours to simply wander around the city before meeting up with the campground’s shuttle bus at 4 pm.  Sunshine, good walking sandals, no agenda, camera in hand–sweet bliss.

The first thing I noticed was churches, lots of them, in a variety of colors and shapes, dominating the streetscapes in every direction and giving Charleston one of its nicknames, “The Holy City.”

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My favorite church, the pink French Huguenot.

My favorite church, the pink French Huguenot.

The young and the dead on a Huguenot tombstone.

The young and the dead on a Huguenot tombstone.

Charleston’s other nicknames are “Chuck Town” and “The Big Sweet Grass Basket.”  Not nicknames that make me want to visit.  But if you want a sweet grass basket—this is the place for you—there were vendors selling them to tourists on every other corner.  The basket stands were outnumbered, however, by the horse (and mule) drawn carriages, bulging with tourists and loud tour guides hawking a little southern charm.

IMG_8190Every time I came to a new street, there was another carriage, hauled by one or two beasties patiently waiting or slowly clip-clopping up the street, adding to the fantasy-like atmosphere of another era.

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Charleston is an old city, founded in the 1600’s at the confluence of two rivers joining the sea.  In the early days, it was unusual in that it welcomed immigrants of all religious persuasions (except Roman Catholics (there has to be some group on the outs)), giving it a rich mix of cultures.  It also welcomed lots and lots of slaves, being a main point of entry for slave ships.

In my meandering walk, I most enjoyed the French Quarter.  It pales in comparison with New Orleans’ French Quarter.  In comparison, Charleston’s is a baby-sized area and so much more polite and restrained.  But the houses were colorful and had a decidedly European feel.

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IMG_8202IMG_8205IMG_8206I had expected Charleston to be a lot like Savannah, but it feels very different.  They both are full of lovely old houses with oak-shaded streets, but Charleston is bounded by rivers and oceans, giving it a more wide-open, oceany feel.

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Charleston’s famous Battery, a defensive wall and promenade, stretches along its waterfront.  I found it awash with tourists—all of whom were people-watching and house-gawking—I was the only freak who seemed to notice the dolphins playing in the water.

IMG_8219The Battery area is flanked by ornate antebellum homes, full of high money and southern manners, but with little privacy from tourists’ prying eyes and lenses.

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This tourist is taking a picture of the house interior.  A common sight in Charleston.

This tourist is taking a close up of this private residence–a common sight in Charleston.

Some creepy statuary.

Some creepy statuary.

This house will keeps the tourists at bay.

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Such a strange southern mix, this city that defied the Union and started the Civil War at Fort Sumter, while also prizing appearance, manners, elite social societies, and debutante balls.

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South Carolina Society Hall motto

South Carolina Society Hall motto

Even the sewer covers are attractive.

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There is little visual record of Charleston’s black residents when walking through the old streets.  But I did stumble on this plaque by the courthouse.

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While Judge Waring’s admirers should be rightly proud of his lone dissent against segregation, they left out the rest of the story, which found the plaintiff Brigg parents losing their jobs, the local Reverend who assisted their efforts surviving a drive-by shooting and the torching of his church, and all of them leaving this staunchly segregationist state.  It’s not a pretty history.

Courthouse, within spitting distance of a church, of course.

Courthouse, within spitting distance of a church, of course.

I also learned that Charleston had a significant earthquake in 1886, between a 6.6 and 7.3 on the Richter Scale—a surprise to me.

Confederate Veterans Home damaged by the earthquake

Confederate Veterans Home damaged by the earthquake

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I walked up and down streets.

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Notice the horse and carriage reflected in the window. Inescapable.

IMG_8189IMG_8188IMG_8269IMG_8270IMG_8257I wound my way back to the Visitors Center to pick up the shuttle and ran into the John Calhoun statue.  Most statues are at a reasonable visual level.  Not this one.  This staunch defender of slavery is raised to a godlike height, staring down at us mere (northern) mortals with a disapproving scowl. IMG_8273IMG_8277

I couldn't make out any details of the statue except through the telephoto lens.

I couldn’t make out any details of the statue except through the telephoto lens.

Tents were going up in Marion Square for Charleston’s fashion week, balloons escaped above, and little piggies sparkled.

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People are Strange

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Strange?  Not so much, they were riding for charity.

We spent a few memorable days on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, with odd encounters and over-the-top glorious warm, sunny weather.  We stayed at a private RV park on the waterway, where each site is individually owned and decorated.  You cannot reserve sites in advance, but we knew that we might be able to snag a waterfront site because we were arriving on a Sunday morning, when many people were leaving.  We arrived fairly early for check-in and found limited available waterfront sites due to dock construction.  But, fortunately, one lovely site right on the water had just opened up and we grabbed it.  Yesssss!!!

After we went through the routine of backing in (a bit difficult because of the large truck parked across the street) and unhooking the trailer, George went to hook up the sewer hose and discovered a charming surprise—a spill from the previous occupant’s black tank.  It was a two-foot wide puddle of sodden disintegrating clumps of toilet paper and crap (literally).  Nooooo!!!

What kind of people leave a dump of sewage behind?  Did they think no one would notice?  It’s bad enough having to act as a roto-rooter for your own sewage in an RV, but having to come face-to-face with someone else’s is downright puke-worthy.  After an initial non-reaction from the woman manning the park’s office, apparently a light dawned—uh-oh raw sewage—and she came running over, immensely apologetic.  Fortunately, another waterfront site had been vacated while we were trying to figure out what to do.  So, we were able to move.  Management also kindly offered us a free night. Things were looking up.

Our personal dock.

Our personal dock.

Shortly after unhitching for a second time at the new site, we were approached by a middle-aged brother and sister, who stopped to ask questions about our trailer.  The woman cornered me by the picnic table with a non-stop, one-sided talk fest.  She pulled up her shirt to show me a rainbow of blue and yellow bruises from broken ribs she sustained in a ping-pong game with her brother (“we’re very competitive, you know”) and then went into graphic detail about the effect the painkillers she received had on her bowels.  I will spare you the details.

All this happened within an hour of arriving at Hilton Head.  Ouch.

The new site, however, was exquisite, with its own dock and a view of the harbor.  We spent most of our time just sitting outside, soaking up the warmth and sun, and looking out over the water.

Our morning breakfast view.

Our morning breakfast view out the window.

The RV park had—let’s say an unusual culture, with lots of people in huge Class As and Fifth Wheels who stay there for the whole winter.  They seemed to think it was beneath them to acknowledge short-timers and were some of the unfriendliest people we have encountered on the trip.  You would think we were sporting buboes.

Dwarfed.

Dwarfed.

It’s fascinating how people enjoy a little snobbery even when they are living in what is, in essence, a trailer park.

A park street.

A park street.

This guy was hanging around.

This guy was hanging around.

Herons were a common theme in site decorations.

Herons were a common theme in site decorations.

Little flags adorned many sites.  St. Patrick's Day themes were popular, not sure what this bunny signified.  Early Easter?

Little flags adorned many sites. St. Patrick’s Day themes were popular, not sure what this bunny signified. Early Easter?

Surprisingly, there was a very good restaurant in the park, over the laundry, looking out on the water.  The food was delicious and inventive—much too good for many of its clientele.

View from our restaurant window.

View from our restaurant window.

We went for dinner at sunset one evening and sat next to a table with three grim, moneyed, older couples.  They insisted on having the blinds drawn, “too bright,” complained that the gumbo was “too seasoned,” and loudly pointed out that “some people think it’s ok to wear baseball caps in restaurants, but not us.”  George, two other men, and a woman (all over 50, but the youngest in the restaurant) apparently were causing great irritation to this man by wearing baseball caps and he felt it was his duty to inform them of their rudeness.  I thought he was rude on several counts, but politely refrained from saying anything.  Perhaps I should have informed Mr. Complainer that his liver-spotted, combed-over head would have been greatly improved by a hat and his vein-popping, crusty ankles by a pair of socks.

Sunset over the dock construction.

Sunset over the dock construction.

Many people adore Hilton Head.  It has gorgeous beaches, top-notch golf courses, lots of shopping, and good restaurants.  But, it was not our style–too much traffic, too many people, too many stores.  I rode my bike all around the island’s bike paths one day and had to continually dodge broken beer bottles, fast-food bags, styrofoam food containers, a dead cat, two dead raccoons, a dead squirrel, and aggressive traffic.

The only photo worth taking on my bike ride.

The only photo worth taking on my bike ride.

I was thrilled to get back to our serene little spot on the water and didn’t venture out again.

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After four days, we left for Edisto Beach State Park.  The weather turned cold, cloudy, and very windy—too cold to really spend any time at the beach.  IMG_8150We stayed at the inland part of the campground, which gave us some protection from the wind, so we enjoyed its trails in a dense, gloomy, Tolkein-like woods, where the trees seemed to have faces. 20150314_093642 One trail led to the remains of a Native shell-mound. IMG_8152IMG_8161

There were lots of families at the Edisto campground over the weekend.  In fact, it was full.  One afternoon, we were puzzled by what sounded like a loud, annoying cell phone ring that didn’t stop.  It turned out to be an ice cream truck weaving through the park.  The seven children at the site next to us were eager customers.  The summer weekend campground season has already begun.      IMG_8176IMG_8139

Defensive Design

IMG_7999I had no idea that a military fort could be so beautiful. On our last full day on the Georgia coast, we decided to take a drive north from Skidaway to Tybee Island. We had no specific destinations on Tybee, we just wanted to check it out. Tybee is Savannah’s beach, with a partially funky, partially upscale, southern beach town feel. It has a starkly handsome lighthouse, set off by the red roofs below.

IMG_7918As we were on the stretch of road leaving Tybee, we decided to stop at Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument on the Savannah River’s Cockspur Island. A good decision.

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Moat and drawbridge

Surprisingly, the Park Service allowed dogs everywhere but in the visitor center, so Zoe got to tour the fort also.

You can just see George and Zoe at the edge of the moat.

You can just see George and Zoe between the trees at the moat’s edge.  She wanted to go swimming.

Zoe liked the cannon.

Zoe showing her approval of the cannon.

We walked a trail down to the river bank and then tackled the fort itself.

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There were flocks of cedar waxwings on the trail.

We dodged a flock of cedar waxwings on the trail.

Resurrection ferns.  They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live, appear to die, and then live again.

Resurrection ferns. They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live on the live oaks.  They turn brown and look dead under cold and drought conditions and then, a few days later, become green again.

The fort’s history alone made it an interesting visit.IMG_8045

IMG_8013Fort Pulaski was part of James Madison’s plan to fortify the coast after the war of 1812. It took decades to build and stood even longer after its completion without being fully armed or manned.  As a result, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in late 1860, Georgia’s governor easily seized the fort, and turned it over to the Confederate States in January 1861.  After Lincoln blockaded the South, Union forces worked their way down the South Carolina coast and moved in on Georgia, eventually establishing troops on Tybee for a siege of Fort Pulaski.  In April 1862, when the Confederates refused to surrender the fort, the Union bombarded it with armament that included new rifled cannons, Parrott guns, which sent bullet-shaped shells spinning out of the cannon, giving greater range and penetration than the standard smooth-bore cannon and round cannon balls used at the time.  The new guns made short work of what had been considered Pulaski’s impenetrable walls and the Confederates surrendered 30 hours later.IMG_7971

IMG_7966IMG_8033After the surrender, General David Hunter, commander of the Fort’s Union forces, issued an emancipation proclamation for the slaves of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina (too early for Lincoln–he quickly rescinded it).  The hundreds of slaves who reached the fort were freed and it became a southern terminus in the Underground Railroad.

Carved granite steps.

Carved granite steps from below.

History aside, what I found so compelling about the fort was its sheer beauty of design. It may not have been impregnable, but it was stunning for the eyes.  The man responsible, General Simon Bernard, was a French engineer and former aide-de-camp of Napoleon.

The vaulted ceilings and arches gave it a church-like feel.  The dimensions, the symmetry, and the colors were pleasing, almost soothing.  Beautiful form for a brutal function.IMG_8026_edited-1

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Toward the end of the war, Fort Pulaski housed Confederate political and military prisoners, some of whom died there.  It’s now supposed to be haunted.IMG_7993

Skidaway

IMG_7758It feels good to be traveling again.  We headed north from St. Simons back to Athens, Georgia, where our son and daughter-in-law live.  We picked up our generator and some other things we had stashed there, ate like kings (or pigs, depending on your point-of-view), and then turned around and headed back to the Georgia coast.  This time, our destination was Skidaway Island State Park, just southeast of Savannah.

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Skidaway takes reservations, but not for specific sites, just the category of site—full-hookups or water and electric only.  There were no full-hookup reservations available when we made ours, but we arrived early and snagged a full-hook up site that had just opened up.  I believe we had the best site in the park.  Enormous, level, relatively private–it was one of our favorite campsites of the trip.

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Although Skidaway is an island, the state park is in the coastal forest bordering the marsh and there is no beach.  Most of the campground sites are large, overhung by live oaks, bordered by palmettos, and alive with birds.  IMG_7826It has a series of trails, from a half-mile to three miles, which made for lovely daily exercise.  IMG_7742IMG_7786IMG_7771Lots of birds, not too many people, campfires at night, a full moon rising through the trees—as I said, it felt good to be in our little trailer world again.

IMG_7823The park has a small interpretative center with information on the area’s history—natural and otherwise.  As I walked through it, trying to quiet the thwack-thwack of my flip-flips so as not to interrupt the Ranger’s talk on poisonous snakes from the room next door, I heard her say, “Whatever you do, don’t walk the trails with sandals or flip-flops.”  No problem, I headed out on the trails fully shod, ankles sprayed with bug dope, so that no snakes or ticks would get near me. IMG_7883

The interpretative center had a birdfeeder out back.

The interpretative center had a bird feeder out back.

This cardinal kept attacking its reflection in the interpretative center's window

This cardinal kept attacking its reflection in the interpretative center’s window

We headed into Savannah one day, but it was too cold and windy to even get out of the car for more than a few minutes.  IMG_7836IMG_7840We parked and tried to walk around but didn’t get much past the parking lot with the hearse ghost tours.  Still, even a drive around Savannah is interesting.  Its historic district is a maze of beautiful old homes and shaded squares, with some grittiness interspersed and around the edges.  IMG_7869IMG_7863IMG_7876IMG_7868IMG_7877The river waterfront’s warehouses have been converted to restaurants and tourist shops.  It gave me the deja-vu-ish feeling that I have had in several gorgeous old waterfront towns that now have look alike tourist businesses–Lahaina, Provincetown, Savannah, Wilmington–as if I’ve been on these streets before, but with a slight shift in light, background, and smell.  They are becoming too much the same.

IMG_7845IMG_7854We did not have any expectations for Skidaway.  We changed our travel plans in Athens, deciding that we wanted to head back to the coast in hopes of warmer weather. So, we booked Skidaway at the last minute, knowing little about it.  It was a good decision.  Despite the one cold day, the weather was pretty nice.  And the campground, which seems like a serene, woodsy oasis, is only about fifteen minutes from Savannah. We loved it.IMG_7791IMG_7810IMG_7796